Entries Tagged 'Writing' ↓
January 30th, 2011 — Writing
So NPR ran an article about bacon being the gateway meat for vegetarians who decide to go off the broccoli wagon. Here’s the skinny on the fatty stuff if you don’t want to read the full article: our brains are hot-wired to find and ingest calories. One of the scientists claims that 90 percent of what we taste is actually odor (I’m trying not to think about this too much because, well, that calls into question anyone who eats limburger cheese or other malodorous substances).
But there’s more to it than that. Our sense of smell is also connected to emotions. For some, the smell of bacon conjures up good old fashioned breakfasts at Bob Evan’s and the like. Add to that the fact that bacon has now become chic, as in bacon ice cream, bacon-flavored coffee, bacon-encrusted or bacon-dusted everything, and many vegetarians are sneaking a few strips on the side.
I get it. Bacon smells good. Bacon makes you think yummy, salty, fatty breakfast followed by a nap on the sofa while you’re watching Daktari re-runs from your childhood. I admit that it’s all of the above but it’s not the meat I’d fall on my asparagus sword for. Oh no. That meat would have to be something awfully special. If you ever want to tempt me out of my 20+ years of not eating anything with a face, here are the top five routes to take:
1. My mom’s creamed chicken and noodles (without peas). As our dog Alice would say if she could talk, hells yeah. This stuff is the bomb. I know it sounds more like a gastronomic bomb but it is delicious and comforting and did I mention freaking delicious. I requested it for all of my birthday meals when I was growing up. (As opposed to cottage ham, meatloaf, and city chicken which might be the worst meats ever invented.) If you’re reading this mom, some friends want your recipe.
2. Skyline Chili. Yup. You can take the girl out of Cincinnati but you can’t take Cincinnati out of the girl. Good thing they make a fabulous black beans and rice version. And, in this case, it is all about the odor and spices. So it’s another good thing they make a handy spice packet that can be added to Morningstar Farms Veggie Crumbles for my no-meat version.
3. LaRosa’s Pepperoni Pizza. Again, another Cincinnati institution.
4. Basil’s Chili, courtesy of Bill Patstilivas’s secret recipe. This no longer exists but man oh man was it good. My designing diva sister Mary will attest to that fact.
5. Rax Roast Beef Sandwich with Au Jus. I guess Arby’s would do the trick, too. But really, if I could just dip bread in the sauce, I wouldn’t even need the meat.
When all is said and done though, I really don’t miss meat. Though there are times the odor certainly strikes a memorable chord somewhere in me and I think about my dad at the grill in the backyard or coming home from school and smelling one of my favorite or most hated meals. All I know is I’m glad that potato chips aren’t made of meat and they come in varieties made with vegetable oil. Otherwise I’d be screwed.
December 26th, 2010 — On the Nightstand, Uncategorized, Writing
Long time, no write on The Grist Mill. The last six months of the year were jam-packed with reading and writing (no arithmetic, thank god) for my classes. But, but, but the year cannot end without the traditional Top 10 Book List for 2010 so click on those underlined words and wah-lah, the list is yours! Until we meet again next year…
September 22nd, 2010 — Writing
A few weeks ago we were gathered in a neighbor’s backyard eating s’mores (some traditional, some made with Reese’s peanut butter cups, others with white chocolate and still others with praline bacon – very gourmet and gooey for the meat-eating crowd but gourmet s’mores is another blog for another time).
Conversation turned to shopping. Well, conversation first turned to the fact that young girls are showing off their “girls” more than any of us in the 35 – 45 age bracket did when we were in college. Walk around any college campus right now and it’s Boobpalooza, boobs on parade, and the era of uber-boober-cleavage. The one theory is, if you got ’em, flaunt ’em, and flaunt ’em in the best and boostiest Victoria’s Secret bra your Benjamin Franklins can buy. The other theory is that, in general, today’s younger set is more well-endowed. Theories abound on why women are chestier than their mothers and grandmothers. Implants are still popular. The effect of hormones can increase breast size and the level of artificial hormones and soy in the foodchain contributes to this, though the jury is still out on this link. And finally, all of us eat more than our ancestors, even our ancestors from a few generations ago. Breasts are mostly made of fat and our diets include more fat, thus bigger melons.
Or maybe it’s just that fashion designers today are making clothes that serve the general population and forget about those of us that still populate the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. Which brings me to my original point which is: can some designer please make a shirt that fits a woman who is 5′ 2″ and decidedly a 34B?
Yeah, that’d be me. And, I presume, many other women out there. Because here’s the thing — I go to Ann Taylor Loft and hit the Petites department. Normally I have good luck there. Normally. But lately it’s been nothing but frustrating. The shirts, even in the Petites section, come down past my butt. The helpful store associates tell me that “long is in.” I tell them that this kind of long makes me look like I don’t know how to buy clothes that fit. Tuck the shirt in, they suggest, or throw a big wide belt around it, circa the 80s. Um….no. The 80s ship has already sailed in my lifetime and it is not coming back to this port or harbor; it is far, far out at sea, never to return and possibly to be swept into the Bermuda Triangle where it can disappear with stirrup pants forever, thank you.
After this conversation, I needed a new pair of running shoes so I went to Vertical Runner and then, because they’re right there, I popped into The Gap and the Loft. I spent at least an hour in The Gap trying on their new line of jeans, this being another area that fashion designers need to correct. Regular jeans don’t fit my irregular shape, apparently. I tried on the Real Straight, the Curvy, the Sexy Boot, and the Perfect Boot. And then I booted all of them across the dressing room floor because none of them came close to fitting. I went up a size, down a size, down two sizes, and tried the regular and ankle lengths. Nada, nunca, not a thing worked. Then I tried on a few shirts. Needless to say, the v-necks came down to my belly button and the other shirts were more like tunics.
I patted my shoe box containing my running shoes that were in the same size and same brand that I’ve worn for the past five years. Thank you running shoe designers for your consistency and unwillingness to put extra cleavage near at the laces.
At the Loft, it was the same thing. I ventured into the Petites department, grabbed several cute shirts and blouses, and entered the dressing room with renewed optimism. Until I pulled the first shirt over my head. Again, the hem hit the middle of my hips and let’s just say this isn’t the most flattering place for the bottom of a shirt to hit when you’re short.
That evening, I see on Facebook that my running pal Suzi had similar dressing room disasters when she went shopping for jeans. Suzi is slightly shorter than I am but, in general, about the same size.
What gives fashion designers? Wouldn’t we be saving you material — and saving us some cost — if you didn’t make shirts that resembled nightgowns? Do you recall where a woman’s natural waistline is? The last time I checked — which was just a few minutes ago because I’ve never measured myself here — my shoulder to waist measurement is approximately 17 inches. I measured a top I bought at Target but didn’t try on. It measures in at 24 inches. No wonder I’m taking it back. Do you know there’s such a thing as an A and B cup?
Finally, this past weekend, with the remnants of a migrane (not from shopping disasters but from work disasters), I went to anthropologie, the Land of the Beautiful and Unique and Outrageously Expensive and Never On Sale clothing. This had epic failure written all over it. I always go to anthro with high hopes and come home devastated and bagless. But, but, but, I scored a mustard colored thin corduroy skirt, perfect with boots, and a brown jacket with a small non-clownish ruffle. Apparently there are still some designers in the world who understand that women’s bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that we need clothes, too.
So, here’s to all of the women who battle it out in the dressing rooms, searching for something that really fits. Maybe if we team up together, designers will start listening.
April 4th, 2010 — Writing
Ah, Easter. It’s the time of renewal, rebirth, pastel dresses, daffodils and tulips, baskets filled lots of candy and, if you’re lucky, no annoying Easter basket grass. This morning, the dwarf magnolia in our front yard is dressed up in her own version of an Easter bonnet and coat — beautiful white and ruby blooms that last about two weeks before she covers herself in a robe of green leaves. After such a long, snowy winter, seeing this first sign of Spring on Easter morning is about as exciting as coloring Easter eggs.
Coloring the eggs is, in my opinion, more fun than finding them. But maybe that’s because I am the second youngest in my family and my older brother, Dave, always beat me and my sisters and younger brother to the traditional hiding spots. With all of these thoughts of Easter eggs and marshmallow peeps dancing in my head, I decided to interview my brothers, sisters, and mom about their memories of Easters past.
So, here are the players: Chris, oldest and loudest sister, also talks with her hands more than I do, and is the only one with a brain for science among us (you’d think the science brain would’ve helped her be a better egg finder but it didn’t; Dave, oldest brother who could go to Bora Bora and would end up running into someone he knows, also highly competitive and is a champion at teasing his sisters and finding eggs; Mary, middle sister of our clan, interior designing diva and artiste, and the one everyone turns to when they need something, including help coloring Easter eggs; Amy, ‘nuf said; and bringing up the rear, Kevin, youngest brother, lives in Portland, would rather be outdoors than inside, the only southpaw in our family, and also an artiste. Oh, and Mom, matriarch, also the one who organizes our chaos.
Amy: Let’s start with the important stuff. What was your all-time favorite Easter outfit?
Dave: Not a fair question, I can’t remember outfits that I wore at Easter. Next question, please.
Mary: This was the good part of being a Creelman girl. Grandma Creelman always bought our Easter outfits, including coats, hats, and a purse. I probably remember more of the cute purses and shoes. I remember one picture I had on a little pink coat with a white hat and those shiny white patent leather
shoes. Very cute.
Chris: Let me add to that. Grandma Creelman would send a package from Florida and there would be matching outfits for Mary and I, but they’d be different colors.
Amy and Kevin: Um, hello spoiled.
Chris: Whatever. I remember pantsuits trimmed with tuxedo ruffles. Mine was neon green and Mary’s neon orange. Very 1970’s and oh so cool. When we were little we had dresses with matching coats and hats and we wore veils (round lace dollies) on our heads and gloves to church.
Amy: Anything to add to that, Kevin?
Kevin: No dude. I’m just glad Grandma didn’t buy me anything with ruffles.
Amy: Mom, how about you?
Mom: The one Easter outfit that stands out is the one that I wore as a teenager, maybe around 14 or 15. It was a white linen dress, sleeveless with a full skirt with a crinoline underneath as was the fashion of the 1950’s. It had a black bolero jacket since, in those days, you couldn’t go sleeveless to Mass. The bodice had an insert that laced up similar to the kind the German women wear. I also had the neatest pair of black high heals trimmed in white complete with a small bow on the front. I loved them.
Amy: See everyone? It’s not like I can control this love of shoes thing. It’s in my genes!
Mom: Anyhow, you also had to wear a hat to church. Mom talked me into a red one that had flowers on the side. UGH! Red purse too. I don’t know why I wore black, white and red since this is out of my color family. (Inserted by Amy: Mom is an “autumn”.) And isn’t it strange that red and white were the colors of the girls in our wedding. I remember being at Mass with both sets of grandparents while your Dad served Mass. I think I remember the outfit because it made me feel glamorous (mostly the high heels) . I don’t remember exactly where the outfit came from but I think it might have been Lerner’s in downtown Cincinnati, a very popular place for teenagers to shop in the 50’s. I can tell you about the worst one I ever had. Fifth grade. A dress with a white bodice, ruffle down the front and kelly green skirt, wide green belt with gold buckle matching kelly green sandals worn with white anklets and a plaid swing coat, white, red and green. I wish I had a photo, you wouldn’t believe it.
Amy: Speaking of the worst, remember the year I left my Easter outfit at home? We went to Florida to visit Aunt Virg and Uncle Charlie and, of course, Grandma and Grandpa Creelman. Somehow, and I don’t know how, I left my Easter outfit behind and we had to go shopping to get me something new. We bought lavender Chinos and a beige shirt that maybe had a ruffle on it. What is it with Easter and ruffles?
Okay, on to another topic, what is your favorite Easter candy? For me, it’s a three-way tie between black jelly beans, Reese’s peanut butter eggs, and Rain-Blo bubblegum shaped like little spotted eggs.
Kevin: Definitely Reese’s peanut butter eggs. But not Cadbury eggs. I hate those cream things.
Chris: The best Easter basket I ever got was only filled with yellow marshmallow peeps, stale of course, and black jelly beans!
Mom: Oh yes, black jelly beans are my favorite, too.
Mary: Remember that one year you called them “jack belly beans?” Now that’s what we call them.
Mom: Well I guess the love of jack belly beans runs in the family because all of us like them. And stale peeps. And I like chocolate eggs filled with marshmallow.
Dave: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hang on a sec. I never said I liked black jelly beans. I’m a Smarties and Rain-Blo bubblegum man. You’re all weird with your love of black jelly beans.
Kevin: Totally weird. This family is whack.
Amy: Oh no, you know what’s whack? Whack is the both of you trying to make the ugliest Easter eggs ever.
Dave: That’s not whack, it’s cool. You dip the egg in every color and it comes out brown.
Amy, Mary, Chris (in unison): It’s PUCE, not brown!
Dave: Ug. Sisters. What the hell is puce?
Mom: Children, back to the subject. Coloring eggs was always a challenge with all of you because you always had to be creative and the end result was some pretty weird colors. Dad and I always made a list of where we hid the eggs because we didn’t want one to slip by unnoticed and become a smelly problem after Easter.
Mary: For the record, mom, dad and I were the only ones who ever ate the pretty and ugly eggs.
Mom: Dad and I also had fun hiding the baskets in out of the way places, but David usually found his and his sister’s too which didn’t go over too well.
Amy, Mary, Chris (in unison): No, it did not.
Dave: I can’t help it I’m smarter than all of you. I was pretty creative at coloring the eggs because finding the eggs and baskets was way too easy for me. Let me see…how did it go? Oh yeah, I would find my basket and then usually have to give all of you hints on where your baskets were. This skill that I had as a child has made my hiding baskets frustrating for my own kids. Brian and Erika could never find their baskets and usually Andrew had to help them.
Amy, Mary, Chris (in unison): Ugh. Brothers.
Kevin: Yeah, well none of you were clever enough to set bunny traps in the dining room like I did. I set up a cardboard box with a carrot underneath it, thinking I could trap the Easter Bunny. I’m brilliant.
Amy: Nice, Kev. I’d forgotten about that. You win all of the Easter brilliant points! Now, on to really important business. Marshmallow peeps. Stale or fresh? Bunny or chick?
Chris (loud, hands waving): Ooooooh, ooooh, ooooh! Me first! Stale, of course! Always stale. Most definitely stale. And always yellow! No pink!
Kevin: Not just stale, they should be rock hard, like break your teeth rock hard. And you have to bite the head off first, bunny or chick. Whatever, just eat the head first.
Mary: Absolutely stale stale stale – about 3 weeks stale. You have to but them early and cut a slit in the package-put them on top of the fridge so you kind of forget them -they need to be chewy and yellow and only the chicks, NO RABBITS.
Mom: Definitely stale. Me too.
Amy: Me three. Dave?
Dave: Never eat ’em. Not then, not now. But I think we can all agree on Dad’s favorite Easter candy, right?
All (in unison): Papas Opera Cream Eggs!!!
Mary: Only when I got older and tried Dad’s favorite Papas Opera Cream Eggs did that one take the place of the Reese’s peanut butter eggs. Lovely creamy egg – ahhhhh. Mom always bought them for dad as soon as she saw them in the store; he would keep them cold in the fridge down in the basement remember?
Amy: Thank god Dad liked them because I hated them. Yuk. So, to wrap this up, what else do you remember about Easter? Let’s let mom go first.
Mom: Well, I remember as a child my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle John giving us a half-pound butter crème egg from some specialty candy store in Cincinnati, name escapes me, and I always looked forward to getting one of those. The center was bright yellow surrounded by opera crème, yummy. But what about the Easter in April when we went to Batavia, New York to visit the Uncle Charlie. Amy, you were probably too little to remember and Kevin wasn’t born yet. Grandma and Grandpa Riedmiller, Uncle Denny, Uncle Len and Diane and their family. We were all looking forward to the Easter Egg Hunt and it snowed and was very cold.
The men took all the kids while the women stayed behind to prepare dinner. We also went to Niagara Falls and part of the Falls were frozen solid. I thought they looked beautiful and very surreal.
Uncle Denny would like to add his favorite memory as well. He remembers coming out on the porch with Mom, your Grandma Riedmiller, in his Robert Hall jacket and tie. Mom was all dressed up. As he headed for the car, Mom turned around and went back into the house. Came out five minutes later with a completely new outfit, from hat to gloves. We never knew what motivated the change. Dad, of course, complained and smiled at the same time. We think it was one of the things he loved most about her.
Amy: Um, I’ve done that before. Changing outfits at crucial moments.
Chris and Mary (in unison): Of course you have, Little Cass!
Kevin: I remember Sunrise Service in Florida, with Grandma Creelman. That was super cool.
Mom: Oh yes, I remember that. Grandma Creelman wanted to go to the Sunrise Service on the beach. We all got up at the crack of dawn. We dragged lawn chairs to Mass, with the gulf in the background. It was very pretty but the damn no-seeims, those pesky little critters, nearly ate us alive. I also remember Dad hiding Easter eggs in the backyard on Applevalley for Kevin, and taking Kevin to Northgate to have his picture taken sitting on the Easter bunny’s lap.
Amy, Mary (in unision, in babytalk): Aw, wittle Kevin on da Easter bunny’s lap. Aw.
Kevin: Shut. Up.
Chris: I don’t have any specific Easter memories, other than the New York trip, but I do remember going to the Polly Flinders Outlet with Grandma Creelman and seeing a Disney movie (Sleeping Beauty), I think.
Mary: Oh yes, I sort of remember the Polly Flinders trips. But what I remember more is all of that flocking on those dresses. Flocking itches!
Amy: Major itchy.
Mary: I also like watching Easter Parade every year. How can you not love a good old movie with Fred and Judy?
(Amy, Chris, Mom humming Easter Parade tune).
Amy: Any parting words for this Easter morning?
Dave: Let me know if you still need help finding your Easter baskets.
Kevin (chewing): Um, sorry. I just took off a Peep’s head. Happy Easter.
Mary: At least my eggs were always pretty and artistic.
Chris: I wonder if I have anything with ruffles to wear to Mass today.
Mom (chewing): Who says black jelly beans aren’t for breakfast.
Amy: Happy Easter everyone! Enjoy the sunny day with family and friends!
March 10th, 2010 — Writing
Somewhere south of your wildest dreams
You put your faith right to the test
-The Long Fight, lyrics by Dave Purcell
I’m in! I’ve been accepted to the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program – quite possibly the longest name for a program so I’ll be using the acronymn, NEOMFA, from here on out. Several years ago, Dave wrote a song called “The Long Fight” and this, my friends, has been one very long fight and a long time coming. For someone like me, who doesn’t think more than a day or two in advance and whose idea of planning is grounded more in intuition and emotion than logic and strategy, taking the long fight doesn’t come naturally. But this lesson in patience and planning is finally paying off.
(Official site of the Purcell Deal)
Getting to March 6, 2010 – the day I was accepted to the program – has been nearly 20 years in the making. When I graduated from Ohio U, I thought about staying in school to get my masters, but I ventured into the work world instead. Shortly thereafter, Dave and I got married. Now there were two artists with competing dreams. Dave wanted to pursue music, I wanted to pursue writing, and Dave also wanted out of computer programming. A camping trip to Bear Mountain, NY in our turquoise Volkswagon microbus was the site of the Purcell Deal: Dave would get his masters in Sociology first; then it would be my turn to write full-time, go back to school, do what I wanted.
We sealed the deal over a campfire while eating peanut butter sandwiches, a camping staple and a Purcell vacation staple in the coming years.
Dave completed his masters at the University of Cincinnati and the Deal continued. We moved to Chicago so Dave could pursue his Ph.D. at Loyola. At that point, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to get a masters in creative writing or maybe a teaching certificate so I could teach high school English. Dave had taken a mammoth paycut to return to school and we were living on my salary. Many people couldn’t understand our decision; some folks still wanted to know when we’d “settle down, have kids, and buy a house” instead of chasing silly musical and writing dreams. But we ignored those comments.
While many of our friends were already in houses and vacationing at all-inclusive resorts, we were living in cramped apartments with milk crates and hand-me-down furniture, and taking trips to nearby state parks with our fancy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was our Deal, our path, and we did what was needed to stay on it.
We made ends meet … barely. Oftentimes the ends were frayed or tied together with loose change scrounged out of pockets and corners of our apartment. How poor were we? We were so poor that our landlord took pity on us and gave us free tickets to the Cubs game. While we were at the game, we had to make a big decision: use the remaining cash from my paycheck for one more beer or use it for the fare home on the El. It was the last of our money until the next payday. We opted for the El, a tough decision given our love for beer. Good times.
For a variety of reasons, Dave left Loyola and ventured back into the corporate world for a few years. But he missed academia almost immediately and realized his true calling was there versus the corporate grind. When we moved back to Newport, KY and stockpiled some savings, Dave returned to the University of Cincinnati to finish out his Ph.D. The Purcell Deal was still in play – once Dave was finished, it was my turn. We moved into a smaller, more affordable house — Dave’s childhood home, in fact — to make things work. Lots of people didn’t understand why we were moving out of a lovely historical home into a fixer-upper but it was all part of the Deal. If we downsized and made some sacrifices, it would pay off later, especially for me. Tom Petty’s statement that the waiting is the hardest part doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The payoff wasn’t always easy to remember when I was working 60-hour weeks, the basement was flooding when it rained, and Dave was so immersed in school that I dubbed the term Grad School Face – a cross between a scowl, confusion, and exhaustion. Dave also had to make the tough decision to set aside a piece of his core: music. After being in bands for sixteen years straight with no breaks, he left the three to four bands he was playing in and booked infrequent gigs for his main band, Pike 27, when his schedule allowed. As his dissertation date neared, he played less and less and said “no” to more and more social events with friends. In the meantime, my job absorbed most of my time, leaving very little energy left for fiction writing. When I’d get frustrated about our Deal, Dave would remind me of our sense of purpose – that soon it would be my turn, that all of this madness was part of the method to get us to the next step. True. And true.
Dave landed a job at Kent State University, which meant moving to Akron and leaving good friends and family behind. People said we were “lucky.” People told us that we were “golden” and things just always seemed to work out for us. Peeshaw. What’s that old saying about luck being when preparation meets opportunity? If it hadn’t been for all of the preparation — downsizing, moving into a smaller home, working my ass off, setting music aside, setting fiction writing aside, coming up with a Deal — we’re pretty sure we wouldn’t be where we are today. We planned, we made concessions, and we even doubted ourselves. Our faith in the Deal wavered plenty of times, especially over those peanut butter sandwich vacations. There was the distinct possibility it could backfire at any time.
Thankfully, I had built a solid reputation at work and was asked to keep my job on a part-time basis, the first step toward fulfilling the next part of the Deal. Year one passed quickly in Akron and with so much change, I had a hard time focusing the other part of my time on fiction. In fact, I could barely settle into my new part-time status. I continued to work my full-time hours, mainly because I’d been a full-time worker for 18 years and I struggled with losing that identity. Work had become my world, it was who I was at some level. When people asked me what I did for a living, I didn’t say I was a writer. I went into a long description about my job and what I did there.
Finally, as we entered year two in Akron, I decided the time was right and I was ready to head into my portion of the Deal. I considered getting a master’s in journalism but the job market for news reporters is at an all-time low. I also considered getting my teaching certificate so I could teach high school English. My high school English teachers were a huge influence on me and I thought it’d be great to pay it forward, so to speak. But after talking with a few high school teachers, I knew I’d have to give up writing fiction altogether if I wanted to be a great teacher. I wasn’t willing to do that. Dave pushed me to make a decision and come up with a better plan than, “I’ll think about it later” and “things will work out the way they’re supposed to.” I hemmed. I hawed. I made excuses for why I wasn’t making my move.
Truth be told, now that it was time to take advantage of my part of the Deal, I was afraid. In Dave’s song, The Long Fight, there’s a line: we’re fragile in the face of fear. Um…yeah. What if I applied to an MFA program and they rejected me? What if my writing wasn’t good enough to get in? And what if I couldn’t cut it in class? All of these years of dreaming about writing full-time would come to a screeching halt. Sure, I had some short stories published and people enjoyed my work; I had even signed on with an agent!
But fear is a powerful demotivator and, for years, all of my excuses for why I wasn’t writing more had been a convenient crutch. I had a ready-made list of excuses: My job demanded all my energy. I was supporting Dave through school. The dogs needed me. There was that marathon to train for and then that surgery to recover from. A friend needed my help. Someone else wanted me to volunteer a few hours. Maybe it was time to take up pilates. We were moving to a new place. The refrigerator needed cleaning and have you seen the laundry pile? It’s threatening to revolt. Oh, and there was a great sale at Macy’s.
Most of all, if I went back to the MFA program, it meant putting my needs first. That’s not easy for me and I’m not saying that because I think I’m the most selfless and generous person on the planet. I’m saying it because it’s true; usually I put other people’s requests and needs in front of my own. And boy howdy, is that an easy crutch to lean on. Why can’t I focus on writing? Because I’ve got to take care of all of these other things first. And if I’m taking care of all of those other things, then I can blame all of those other things for getting in the way of writing. Believe me, I’m not the only writer (or woman) on this Ship of Fear.
Then, a little bit of serendipty entered the scene. My book-loving friend, Erik, shipped me Barb Johnson’s incredible short story collection, “More of This World or Maybe Another.” He said it was a must-read, so much so that he sent me a copy as a gift. And it was truly a gift, in the sense that it was the catalyst I needed. The collection made Number Two on my Top 10 List for 2009. The writing was incredible but more so was Johnson’s journey to writing. She had spent 20 years as a carpenter before going back to school in New Orleans. Hmmmm….I’d spent twenty years doing my own sort of carpentry for various companies — crafting memos, newsletters, speeches, advertising copy, headlines blah blah blah. I’d hammered out a few creative briefs and headlines myself. Right after reading her collection, she wrote a short, inspiring piece for Glimmertrain, the behemoth literary magazine that every writer dreams of seeing their name in. Johnson talked about getting a late start into writing. She had this to say:
“…it illustrates a belief I have about timing, about how we get to things when we’re ready for them. And also how the great preoccupations of our lives continue to reassert themselves for consideration. This is how, after spending most of my adult life working as a carpenter, I came to enter an MFA program. Unlike learning to whistle through my teeth, my application to creative writing programs was fraught with a sense of having waited too long. But writing has always been on my short list, so when it reasserted itself, I was consumed with wanting to know what would happen if I had a few years to really focus on it. What would happen if I gave it my full attention and best effort? If I had the time to practice? It took me ten years to really master carpentry, and it seemed that I’d be close to death if writing took as long.
And this is the thing: the almost universal fear that an endeavor will take too long, that we will be way past our primes, our social usefulness, before we get to whatever it is we long for. And lurking underneath is the larger fear of not being good enough. To offset the fear, we manufacture obstacles and place them between ourselves and what we want. And, of course, there are all the real obstacles: no time, no money, other obligations. Unlike my carefree whistling program, my goal of being admitted to an MFA program seemed pretty unrealistic. I don’t want to draw undue attention here to my dubious undergraduate work, so suffice it to say that I didn’t look like much on paper. I couldn’t imagine that schools would be interested in having an old broad come knocking at their doors with nothing to show for herself … and I came to realize that the feeling isn’t about age so much as it is about finally paying attention to what it is you really want in life. And that realization requires us to set aside our assumptions about how life works and what we should be doing, and to consider what our strongest preoccupations are. If we’re lucky, we do this sort of reassessment over and over as time goes on. We fine tune. We just go ahead and reach for the seemingly unreachable. And we get there when we get there.”
WHAM!! Was this woman speaking directly to me? Given the timing — I read it the morning after Dave and I had a rather heated debate about me dragging my feet on my end of the deal — I believe it was definitely a sign. I started the application process shortly thereafter. The deadline for apps was February 1 and I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind. Impossible. By March 1, I was beyond antsy. See my aforementioned inability to take the long view.
I got the call from NEOMFA on March 6 — a voicemail from the graduate coordinator congratulating me on being accepted to the program. I did a dance around the house. It was more like a march with arms raised. I think I might have been singing some bombastic version of Pomp and Circumstance. The dogs barked in celebration.
Now, I just have to make good on my part of the Deal.